It happens every New Year. People make resolutions to improve their health and fitness but give up after a few weeks. Gym memberships are booming in January, but not so much in March. What tends to happen is someone jumps in with enthusiasm but not the right information. They usually get discouraged quickly and quit. Changing habits are hard. But there is a science to this and if you pay attention to a few particular strategies, you’ll be much more successful in making and keeping new lifelong health habits.
Motivation (wanting to make a change) and Adherence (sticking to that change) are critical components of developing lifelong health habits. If you get these factors right, you are well on your way!
Motivation: Extrinsic vs Intrinsic
Motivational factors give you the WHY you want to make a change. There are two types of motivators and they are both important in changing habits long-term.
Extrinsic motivation are factors that comes from outside. These external factors play a key role in jump-starting a change in behavior. A personal trainer can help you up your training game, or start a new program. A trainer can provide expertise, reinforcement, error correction and encouragement. These are all extrinsic motivators but very important in getting you started on a journey you can stick with.
Intrinsic motivation are factors that come from you internally. This is very important for long-term adherence (sticking with the plan). Take a good look at what led you to exercise and your renewed commitment. Different individuals are motivated for different reasons. For health-related behaviors, motivation to initiate change is usually from perceived outcome (looking great) or risk perception (heart attack or contracting disease).
Behavior change happens in stages. The processes of change occur by getting from one stage to the next. Identify your current stage, try to advance to the next stage. This will help you manage your expectations and balance decisions.
- Precontemplation – not even considering an activity program
- Contemplation – considering activity but not yet active
- Preparation – some activity, inconsistent
- Action stage – regular activity (less than 6 months)
- Maintenance stage – regular activity (more than 6 months)
Be Positive! A person’s self-efficacy is defined as belief in one’s own ability to succeed. This is a strong predictor of your motivation and your likelihood to adhere to a program. It’s influenced by your personal thoughts, attitude and previous achievements. A positive attitude really does help increase your motivation and will help you change your behavior long-term.
Be Realistic about your journey. Make sure the goals you set for yourself are SMART goals:
Specific – goals must be clear and unambiguous
Measurable – to monitor progress
Attainable – be realistic
Relevant – to your goals and needs
Time bound – set timelines
Avoid setting too many goals or negative goals. Set both short and long-term goals and revisit those goals regularly.
Make it a habit. You will not be successful unless you make your new plan a habit. How do you do that? Enlist social support from family, spouse, others at the gym and set up your environment to help you succeed. If morning works better for your workout, set that up. If you are more likely to exercise after work, pack your gym bag the night before. If getting to a gym is inconvenient, get some equipment for your home. Set yourself up for success and you’ll quickly see the benefits of a healthy lifestyle are undeniable.